Explosion rocks Beirut, 5 dead
By SAM F. GHATTAS, Associated Press Writer
BEIRUT, Lebanon – A car bomb exploded in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut on Friday killing at least five people, including a top police official who dealt with terrorist bombings and had previously been targeted, authorities said.
The blast in Hazmieh on the Lebanese capital’s Christian eastern edge set dozens of vehicles ablaze and ripped a giant crater in the asphalt.
The national police chief, Brig. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, said one of those killed was Capt. Wissam Eid, a senior police intelligence official. Eid was an engineer who was handling “very important” files, including “all those having to do with the terrorist bombings” in Lebanon, Rifi said.
Lebanon has been hit by a series of explosions, some of them political assassinations, amid a deepening 14-month political crisis. Syria has been blamed in many of the bombings, but it has denied any role.
The police intelligence department is close to the Lebanese government’s anti-Syrian majority, and has been frequently criticized by the pro-Syrian opposition.
Interior Minister Hassan Sabei said there were two previous tries to kill Eid.
Eid’s bodyguard also was killed, Rifi said, in addition to three or four civilians. The Lebanese Red Cross said four people were killed and 20 wounded, the state-run National News Agency said.
Television footage from the scene showed a huge plume of black smoke rising from street and orange flames shooting up into the sky.
Several cars could be seen burning in a blackened area some 20 yards wide, near a highway overpass. Firefighters struggled to put out the flames. Dozens of cars were also wrecked in a nearby parking lot.
TV footage showed at least three bodies, one slumped behind the wheel of a delivery truck that was ripped apart, and two others on the ground under a highway tressel.
Friday’s blast came a day after a labor strike that was largely peaceful, and 10 days after a car bomb aimed at a U.S. Embassy car killed three bystanders. In December, a car bombing killed a top general in the army.
It was the second attack against the police intelligence department in less than two years.
On Sept. 5, 2006, Lt. Col. Samir Shehade, deputy head of the intelligence department in Lebanon‘s national police force, was wounded when his convoy was targeted by an explosion in the town of Rmeileh, just north of the southern city of Sidon. The explosion killed four people in his convoy.
The biggest of Lebanon‘s recent bombings killed former Premier Rafik Hariri and 22 others in February 2005. His assassination triggered political upheaval and international pressure that forced Syria to withdraw its army from Lebanon.
Damascus has denied any role in the bombings, which killed a number of anti-Syrian politicians and journalists.
While attacks have continued, their targets have become more diverse in the past few months, with the killing of a top army general close to the opposition and the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy vehicle.